Last week, one of my sons (Ian) was enrolled into a book club at school. I think it’s fair to say that his ability to read (in a functional sense) is above average for his age. As such, along with others of a similar ability, he was seemingly moved into this group. The book club’s purpose is to promote comprehension, and encourage understanding of literature that they are reading. Well, that’s my understanding.
I was introduced to this concept when he brought home a book with a note attached, telling me what page he should read up to; and by when. Needless to say, being a diligent family, we did as required. However, there was a problem…
The book that he was working on in this club, bored him. I mean, seriously bored him! It could be heard in his tone, seen in his mannerisms and let me tell you; it took an age to sit him down in the first place. By the way, the point of this article is about personal taste, so I’m not going to name the book.
At this point in my tale, it is worth mentioning that Ian reads books every day. This is his choice too, we don’t have to motivate him. Much of the material he reads at the moment is written by Dav Pilkey, but he reads, and has read a great deal of books by many other authors too. Where Dav Pilkey is concerned, if you read the attached article, it gives away one of the many possible reasons that Ian finds him relateable. They share a similar sense of humour. Likewise, the characters in Captain Underpants have ADHD, and so does Ian. Therefore, Ian is reading about children who have similar traits. Importantly, he is also identifying with the challenges that the characters face. In fact it appears, although the diagnosis isn’t specified, that Mr Pilkey also had these qualities. In the article, Dav explains that he explored his strengths, with encouragement from a particular teacher and his parents. Yet otherwise, he was commonly seen in a bad light at school.
Ian also has autism, and where comprehension is concerned, care has to be taken. This applies to instructions as well as literature; in either written or verbal form. Because of this, Ian tends to operate at one extreme or the other. If he understands something and can visualise it, he submerges himself fully. You should see him walking down the street, whilst in his head he is living in Super Mario’s world. In contrast, if Ian doesn’t engage with something, you’ve lost him completely. With Ian, this is easy to see. Game over!
But doesn’t this exist for all of us? We all have things that we like and don’t like. Not only with literature or anything school related, but with everything. I’m talking movies, TV and games; even food. So, on that basis, why do we still insist on force-feeding children literature, that they are just never going to engage with? If there is a book club in school, why couldn’t it cater for individual tastes. Surely everyone could pick their own material, and then share what they’ve read with the group. The questions they need to answer around the book could all be the same, but with different books will come a variety of answers. Likewise, this book club would then self-promote a love of reading. Ian would talk about Captain Underpants for example, and the child next to him may think ‘Wow! That sounds great!’. Ian may also learn of other material that interests him. It would be a perpetual loop of enjoyment for all things literature.
James Patterson sums up my point here…
Please don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of people pushing boundaries. I think it is healthy for all of us to explore things we sometimes don’t normally lean towards. Again, this goes for literature and anything else in life. However, when children start at a point of enjoyment, I believe that they would pick up an enthusiasm for other things from peers. This itself would promote their exploration. I’m thinking of Ian coming home saying ‘Dad, you’ll never guess what. This kid at school is reading (fill in your own suggestion), and it sounds fantastic!’. After all, nobody told him to read Dav Pilkey, he just found it on the shelf.
Surely this is preferable to grown-ups imposing literature that some will never enjoy? That will never teach them to fully engage and understand the content will it?
As a side note, I’d also like to point out, that this seems to be a general culture in our education system. In short, every school I come across takes this approach, not just ours. This rambling isn’t in any way targeted at just one institution; the approach is much more widespread that that. Otherwise, James Patterson wouldn’t have pointed it out. To my knowledge, he didn’t attend the same school Ian did lol. I’m certain that many of you see the same things. As my mum said…’That’s the way we all learned.’
But does that make it right?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to comment away!